Weird Band of the Week: Machida Machizo

kou-machida

Our regular readers know by now that Japan produces way more than its fair share of weird music — so much so that some of the weirdest stuff remains virtually unknown to Anglo audiences. That’s certainly the case with the recorded works of punk singer, poet, novelist and cat-lover Kō Machida. When our good friend the mysterious Interweb Megalink sends us something and is like, “I don’t even know what the hell this is” — which is how we got introduced to Machida’s 1986 masterpiece, Doterai Yatsura — we are way off the outer fringes of the Roman alphabet internet.

Machida, whose real name is also sometimes transliterated as Kou Machida, got his start in 1978 in a punk band called Inu, which is a Japanese word for “Dog.” They released one album before breaking up about three years later, a fun but not particularly weird set of herky-jerky, Clash-like rave-ups called Meshi Kuuna!, which translates to something like, “Don’t Eat!” There’s also apparently a second album released after they broke up called Ushiwakamaru Nametottara Dotsuitaru Zo, but I haven’t been able to track down any of the music.

In fact, most of Machida’s catalog remains offline, or at least unfindable unless you’re able to search for it using Japanese characters. But his first solo album, 1986’s Doterai Yatsura (sometimes called Wild and Crazy Guys, though I can’t tell whether that’s an English translation of the Japanese title, or just based on the fact that cassette versions of the album said “Wild and Crazy Guys” in English on the cover), is a cult classic that’s been uploaded to YouTube in various forms over the years. I hardly ever post full album streams on this site because I know you’re all busy people with short attention spans, but I have to share all 36 minutes of Doterai Yatsura because it’s amazing.

Great, right? You can still hear Machida’s roots in angsty post-punk but he’s also experimenting with tape loops and analog synths, and it sounds like he’s drawing from No Wave, industrial, early video game music and maybe the noise experiments of The Residents and Hanatarash, Yamataka Eye’s notorious pre-Boredoms noise-rock group. There are bagpipes and harmonicas and tribal percussion freakouts (Cromagnon might be another influence) and weird spoken-word passages and looped sex noises. It’s surprising and disorienting in the best possible way — maybe less so if you’re fluent in Japanese, although Machida is apparently known for playing with language in ways can be cryptic even to native speakers and often impossible to translate. (One song title on Doterai Yatsura, for example, is usually translated as “Primitive Hitman” but more literally means “A Man Who Killed a Parakeet That Hit a Conga Drum”.)

Doterai Yatsura is all the more remarkable because as far as I’ve been able to tell, Machida never really recorded anything else like it. This track from his next release, a 1987 EP called Hona, Donaisee Iune, still has highly eccentric vocals, but musically it’s downright accessible compared to his previous work:

And I’m pretty sure this is a track from a 1992 album called Harafuri, credited to Machizo Machida and Kitazamagumi, which I believe was the name of his band at the time:

More recently, Machida appears to have morphed into a sort of Bowie/Bryan Ferry art-rocker; at least that’s certainly the vibe he’s channeling in this clip:

But these days, Machida is more famous in Japan as a novelist. His 2004 novel Punk Samurai Slash Down, set in Edo-era Japan but sprinkled with anachronistic language and modern cultural references, was recently adapted into a feature film that I hope will be coming to our shores soon because it appears to feature monkey warriors and big dance numbers and samurai armies battling to the strains of “Anarchy in the U.K.” Speaking of films, Machida has also starred in a few himself — most famously, a 1995 film called Endless Waltz in which he played a free jazz saxophonist. So yeah, he’s a true Renaissance man. And did I mention that he also loves cats?

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Devo’s Gerald Casale to world: “We tried to warn you”

gerald-casale-devo

There’s a chance something miraculous might happen tomorrow: Art school project turned synth-rock pioneers Devo might get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They wouldn’t be the first weirdos to crash the Rock Hall — Frank Zappa had that honor in 1995, followed by Parliament-Funkadelic in 1997 — but for a band that’s still unjustly known more as a one-hit wonder than as a groundbreaking conceptual group, it would be a pretty major coup for them to be enshrined alongside The Beatles and Elvis and Bon fucking Jovi and all the other canonical rock gods. There’s even a very, very slim chance that they’ll be in the same induction class as Kraftwerk, who are also nominated this year — which would make 2019 the weirdest and synth-iest R&RHOF class ever. (But don’t hold your breath — Stevie Nicks, The Zombies and Def Leppard are nominated, too, and they’ll almost certainly be at the front of the line with voters this year.)

To celebrate this fleeting gesture of mainstream acknowledgement, Devo founder Gerald Casale wrote a remarkable open letter to fans on Noisey, Vice’s music website, reflecting on the band’s history and the prescience of their kidding-but-not-really theory of “devolution,” which posits that humans are doomed not to evolve, but to devolve, as our increasingly sophisticated technologies, marketing methodologies, and political systems cater ever more effectively to our baser instincts. “When Devo formed more than 40 years ago, we never dreamed that two decades into the 21st century, everything we had theorized would not only be proven, but also become worse than we had imagined,” Casale writes.

I encourage you to read Casale’s whole letter, which is a brilliantly cranky screed. It’s especially enlightening if you don’t know Devo’s full history (for the uninitiated, here’s a teaser: The band was founded by a group of Kent State University grads in the early ’70s, after a certain infamous shooting took place there). But here’s the heart of what he’s getting at:

We are drowning in a devolved, WWF Smackdown-style world, with warring, huckster TV pundits from “The Left” and “The Right” distracting the clueless TV viewership while our vile, venal Mobster-in-Chief (who makes Idiocracy’s Macho Camacho look fit for office) and his corrupt minions rob the nation’s coffers in a shamelessly cruel, Grab-‘Em-By-The-Pussy Kleptocracy. …

So, let us not talk falsely now; the hour is getting late. Perhaps the reason Devo was even nominated after 15 years of eligibility is because Western society seems locked in a death wish. Devo doesn’t skew so outside the box anymore. Maybe people are a bit nostalgic for our DIY originality and substance. We were the canaries in the coalmine warning our fans and foes of things to come in the guise of the Court Jester, examples of conformity in extremis in order to warn against conformity.

Casale ends his essay by describing Devo as “the house band on the Titanic” and asking rhetorically, “Is there any question that De-evolution is real?” Nope, Jerry, I’d say you and your bandmates pretty much nailed that one. Well done! Except we’re probably now all doomed and, if your theory of “de-evolution” applies to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (which it clearly does — did I mention they inducted Bon fucking Jovi?), then they’ll almost certainly induct the strip-club soundtrack machine that is Def Leppard and pass over Devo. So you won’t be inducted but hey, at least you’ll be proven right.

If by some miracle Devo does get inducted, we’ll be back tomorrow with some exploding head GIFs.

 

Weird of the Day: Palais Schaumburg, “Kinder der Tod”

Palais-Schaumburg

We’d like to dedicate today’s post to new reader Jörg, who pointed out (quite rightly — thanks, Jörg!) that for a site about weird music, we’re sorely lacking in Neue Deutsche Welle or New German Wave — a particularly Teutonic strain of synth-heavy post-punk that arose in West Germany in the early ’80s. It had a brief run of popularity, leading to the crossover pop success of acts like Nena of “99 Luftballons” fame and this guy. But the original, more underground NDW was way too weird even for most Germans to fully embrace it. A lot of it sounds like a cross between Einstürzende Neubauten and early video game music — the kind of video games that might give you a small electric shock every time you lose, maybe.

Jörg was nice enough to send us links to a whole mess of this stuff, but the one that really jumped out at me was Palais Schaumburg, a band from Hamberg whose stuff managed to be both robotically stiff and kinda funky at the same time, in that way only Germans seem able to pull off. Plus, the video below for their 1981 song “Kinder der Tod” (“Children of the Death”*) is the kind of amazing ’80s artifact YouTube was made for. Suspenders and bad perms abound, and there’s a menacing figure encased in black stretchy fabric and a little performance-art piece about how you’ll die if you let anyone steal your flowers, or something. It’s all deadly serious but probably meant to be funny but it’s hard to tell because another thing Germans are great at pulling off is humor so deadpan it makes you feel like there might be something wrong with you when you can’t stop laughing at it.

Bonus fun fact: Palais Schaumburg was the first musical projects of one Thomas Fehlmann, who would go on to achieve greater renown as a member of another excellent weird band, British ambient electronic pioneers The Orb. I would never have guessed there was a direct link between Neue Deutsche Welle and ’90s rave chillout rooms, but there you have one.

*After we posted this, Jörg wrote us and explained that a more accurate though grammatically confusing translation of “Kinder der Tod” is “Children the Death” — from a lyric that translates to, “Children, (the) death is not that bad at all.” Thanks for clearing that up, Jörg! Or making it more confusing, which is probably more in the spirit of Palais Schaumburg anyway.

DDAA (Déficit des Années Antérieures)

DDAA

Psychofon Records, the current label for this week’s weird band, compares them to The Residents, Nurse With Wound and Can. Which sounds like they’re casting way too wide of a net — until you listen to the surreal, percussive soundscapes of Déficit Des Années Antérieures (DDAA) and realize that yeah, that’s actually pretty spot-on.

Formed in 1977 by three students from the School of Beaux Arts in Caen, France, DDAA’s music encompasses everything from eerie tape loop experiments to tribal percussion to minimalist post-punk anthems that make Suicide sound like Wham! by comparison. Until 1992, they were wildly prolific, releasing somewhere around 15 albums and various EPs and singles, many of which were available only on cassette. They resurfaced with another pair of albums around 2000, took another hiatus, and then have been pretty active since 2011, picking up right where they left off with releases like Ne regarde pas par la fenêtre (Do not look out the window), a four-song EP of dadaist hymns set to industrial throbs and foreboding electronic music.

Amazingly, despite their prodigious output, Jean-Luc André, Sylvie Martineau-Fée and Jean-Philippe Fée — the three musicians who have formed the core of DDAA for the band’s entire existence — appear to remain virtually unknown outside of France. (And maybe Germany, too — shout-out to German reader Sebastian, who turned us onto them.) There is very little information about them available in English so I don’t know their full backstory, or what other projects, if any, they’ve been associated with. It does appear that “Fée” is a stage name, since the Psychofon website translates it and identifies them as Sylvie Martineau-Fairy and Jean-Philippe Fairy. Or maybe they just have a particularly apt surname for their otherworldly music and they didn’t want all us non-Francophone folks to miss out on properly appreciating it.

Did France have MTV in the early ’80s? Maybe that explains the existence of several DDAA music videos from around that era, which are just as delightfully bizarre as their music. Here’s “25 pièces sont vides” from their 1984 album La Familie des Saltimbanques. The sound quality is kinda crappy, so you might want to turn it up.

Amazing, right? Both totally avant-garde and totally ’80s. Most of their tracks, especially from this era, have very assertive, atmospheric bass lines, which appear to be courtesy of Jean-Philippe Fée. Here’s another music video from the same year but a different album (told you they were prolific): Les Ambulants‘ “The Riddle’s Standard.” I especially love the vocals on this one, which somehow manage to sound both strangled and incantatory, like a priest delivering a sermon while chugging sacramental wine out of a paper bag.

Nearly 40 years later, they’re still at it, performing live shows that are basically slow-moving storm fronts of aural unease, and releasing new music that continues to defy categorization. I’ll leave you with a track from their 2015 album Hazy World called “Pirouette” that sounds like a symphony for idling lawnmowers, or maybe the world’s largest moth swarm flapping their wings against the windows of a screened-in porch. France’s answer to The Residents? Sort of — but it’s probably more accurate to say that DDAA don’t sound like anyone else.

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Weird of the Day: The Normal, “Warm Leatherette”

The Normal

I’ve just started reading Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984, author Simon Reynolds’ very convincing argument for considering the six years following the breakup of The Sex Pistols to be among the most wildly creative in pop music history. I’m only a few chapters in, but already it’s reacquainted me with, or introduced me to, a slew of fantastic music from that era that doesn’t get the recognition it deserves.

I’d put The Normal in that overlooked category. Although it’s certainly a project familiar to anyone who grew up in the U.K. in those years, or went to industrial and EBM clubs in the ’80s, most younger fans have probably never heard of Daniel Miller’s post-Kraftwerk experiment in clinically stark electronic music—in part, because Miller only put out two songs as The Normal, before he got more interested in releasing other artists through his label, the influential (and still going strong) Mute Records.

Both of The Normal’s two songs are pretty weird. “T.V.O.D.” is all about sticking TV antennas into your veins, but “Warm Leatherette,” inspired by the J.G. Ballard novel Crash, is about fucking someone who’s just been in a car crash right before they die. So just in terms of creep factor, “Warm Leatherette” wins. There’s also something about its electro-shock synths that still sounds futuristic, even after four decades (it was released in 1978).

Weird of the Day: Circuit Breaker, “Worm 7 (2nd Version)”

Circuit Breaker

We’re journeying to rainy old Manchester, England today, where a pair of brothers, Peter and Edward Simpson, are channeling early ’80s post-punk/darkwave/synth-rock gloom under the name Circuit Breaker. For fans of Suicide or any Joy Division song that isn’t “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” their stuff isn’t super-weird, but it does take some unexpected twists and turns, especially on “Worm 7,” an almost black-metal-like dirge from their most recent release, a five-song EP called TV12.

For more Circuit Breaker, hit up their Tumblr or their SoundCloud page. And to hear the rest of TV12, fire up the ol’ Bandcamp.

Tera Melos

Tera Melos

This week’s band is usually described as “math rock,” a style Jake and I have bagged on in the past, partially out of sheer ignorance (back in 2010, we tagged Little Women as a math rock band…um, no), partially because, let’s face it, there are a lot of crappy math rock bands out there. Start-stop tempos and unconventional time signatures, in and of themselves, don’t make guitar-based music interesting, or even all that weird—but our inbox overflows with such dreck on an almost daily basis. So to all you struggling young math rock bands out there, we say: Study the catalog of Tera Melos, and then get back to us. If you can make music half as challenging and (here’s the important part) fucking fun as these guys, we and all the other jaded hipster music blogs might actually start paying attention to you.

Guitarist Nick Reinhart and bassist Nathan Latona started Tera Melos in Sacramento, California in 2004. Initially they were an instrumental quartet, with guitarist Jeff Worms and drummer Vince Rogers, although Worms quit pretty soon after the band started. Their debut album was an untitled collection of eight untitled songs, just labeled “Melody 1,” “Melody 2” and so on—which was a bit ironic, given that most of the tracks were not so much melodies as kaleidoscopic explosions of processed guitar churning over insanely intricate drum patterns and basslines.

The band’s second full-length album, 2010’s Patagonian Rats, marked a major leap forward. Reinhart had occasionally contributed vocals in the past, but now he was a full-fledged lead singer, and new drummer John Clardy was every bit as technically precise as Vince Rogers but could lay down the occasional in-the-pocket groove. Now Tera Melos sounded like something new: a flashy, complex math-rock band with a fondness for melody and atmosphere, sort of halfway between two of their tourmates, Dillinger Escape Plan and Minus the Bear.

It was also around this time that Reinhart emerged as a bona fide math rock guitar god, with a unique way of using pedal boards to extract maximum sonic impact from his instrument. If you can stomach the host of this video and his relentless ass-kissing, some of the tricks Reinhart demonstrates are pretty impressive. This live in-studio performance gives an even better idea of his guitar/pedal wizardry:

But at the end of the day, it’s not Tera Melos’ math rock chops (or even their refreshing sense of humor about the genre, as seen in the banner art at the top of our site this week) that earn them Weird Band of the Week honors. What really puts them over the top are their music videos, which are nearly always amazing. Here’s “The Skin Surf” from Patagonian Rats, in which they engage in a bit of crustacean osculation while dressed up like the world’s lamest Weezer cover band:

And here’s “Weird Circles” from their latest album, last year’s X’ed Out. Who’s hungry for some Yum cereal?

But their crowning video achievement to date has to be “Bite,” also from X’ed Out, in which music and visuals merge into some kind of overlapping Battles/Primus/Kyary Pamyu Pamyu hallucination. By the way: It’s worth noting that all of these videos were directed by the same guy, a Los Angeles-based filmmaker named Behn Fannin who is clearly some kind of dark, twisted genius.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t once again thank the reader who turned us on to Tera Melos, matp662. I bet matp1 thru matp661 put together are still less cool than you, sir!

Update: Right when we make Tera Melos our Weird Band of the Week, they drop yet another crazy video! Please to enjoy their fresh-pressed latest, “Sunburn”:

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